Great Product Managers Aren’t Afraid To Stumble On The Way To The Top

by drjim on December 12, 2011

Great product managers always slip up before they become great

Great product managers always slip up before they become great

A quick question for you: are you afraid to fail? Would you be willing to take on responsibility for a product that might not be a success? I’m willing to bet that a lot of us would say “no” – our company’s product managers who are perfect are rewarded while product managers who fail are kicked to the curb. Nowhere on the product manager job description is there a place where you can brag about how many times you’ve failed. However, I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong – get ready to fail if you want to succeed.

How To Kill Your Product Management Career

In your job right now, what would happen to you if you failed? If the account manager and business development manager for your product didn’t get to you first, then that end-of-year review would still be a tough one to sit through, right? Let’s face it, failure is not something that is rewarded in our workplace and in fact it’s something that we all actively avoid if we possibly can.

However, maybe we’re just setting ourselves up for a much bigger career disaster. Can we all admit that the world as we know it is changing? Can you remember watching old-time movies where the hero would get a job at a company and then spend his or her entire career working there? We all know that those days are long gone.

Something else is changing also: our jobs. The job that you had when you started working may already be gone. The one that you’re doing right now probably won’t exist in what, 2, maybe 3 years from now. This all means that you are going to have to change and change involves risk and along with risk comes the very real possibility that you are going to fail.

How To Become A Success By Failing

Well, that failing stuff doesn’t sound like it’s going to be any fun. But wait, has anyone else ever failed? Turns out that yes, in fact most successful people can look at their past and point to failures that helped them to get to where they are now.

The poster child for this kind of “good failure” would be Howard Schultz – the guy who founded the Starbucks chain of coffee shops. We all know and love the Starbucks store today, but when Howard first started it he really blew it. There were no chairs, he played lots of opera music, and his menu was in Italian. Clearly he realized that he had failed, quickly adjusted, and went on to become a big success.

You can do the same. Failure is actually a part of your product’s overall strategic management. You need to learn to make lots of small bets. Some of these bets will pay off, and some won’t. It’s through what you learn from the failures that you’ll be able to make tiny changes to your approach and try, try again.

If we keep doing things the same way that we’ve always been doing them, then we will eventually stagnate and then we’ll go into decline. However, if you have the courage to start to fail and to learn from those failures, then the future contains limitless possibilities for both you and your career.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers who are afraid to fail will never become a true success. Oh sure, they may do ok for a few years, but when things get really rough, they’ll wash out.

If you are willing to adjust how you view failure, your career can take off. Sorry, there’s still no place on a product manager resume to proudly list your failures. However, if you can start to look at failures as being simply being learning experiences that are not be feared, but they are to be used to become a better product manager then you’ll be able to grow and become better at what you do.

No, you can’t be an idiot about this and do silly things that cause your product to fail, but if you try your hardest and your product still fails than you will have learned what doesn’t work. The big deal is that it takes courage for you to be able to do this.

Product managers who are a success have to had failures in their past. It’s from the forge of failure that the steel of success is formed. Learn how to make small bets so that you can learn what works and what doesn’t. Do this well and you’ll become a successful product manager.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What’s the best way to get your management to become comfortable with failures as a sign of success?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So what’s your product strategy? If you are like most product managers, you probably don’t have one. Oh sure, if somebody asks you what your product’s strategy is, you can quickly come up with some words that sound good – increase market share, drive down costs, beat the competition, etc. But really, just between us girls, you don’t have a strategy for your product do you? Good news, I think that I can help you out here…

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